Tuesday, 14 May 2013

We should not allow fracking in our region

This is the column I wrote for the Manchester Evening News about Fracking which was published last week:

Do you think Manchester would be better with contaminated tap water, earthquakes and explosions? Sadly your Council thinks it is worth that risk to help big gas companies. Last week Greater Manchester Councils agreed a ‘Joint Minerals Strategy’ allowing these companies to use the controversial process of gas extraction called fracking.

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into coal beds (like those under Manchester, Salford and Wigan) to release gas. It has caused uproar in America where communities have evidence it has contaminated drinking water and land, caused earthquakes and fires, and keeps us trapped in reliance on harmful fossil fuels. Areas like Pittsburg and New York State have listened to the evidence and banned it. Manchester needs to do the same!

Greater Manchester Councils have made a short sighted mistake by agreeing this part of the Minerals Plan; one which future generations will regret. I am deeply troubled by the Plan’s lack of protection against the harmful effects of fracking - I believe it needs to ban fracking entirely.

In January, Professor Kevin Anderson, a globally respected climate scientist, showed Manchester Councillors the imminent threat climate change presents to Manchester and the planet. He reminded us that the Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy calls for: “Radical action on carbon emissions… to pass a viable and safe climate onto future generations”.

Sadly the Minerals Plan conflicts with this objective. Fracking only increases our reliance on gas and so worsens our carbon emission problem. We cannot claim to be an environmentally sustainable city while we allow gas companies to pollute the environment we are trying to protect. The Committee on Climate Change has said fracking is “totally incompatible” with the UK’s carbon reduction targets. We should take note that allowing it to take place in Manchester would destroy our chances of matching our own carbon reduction targets.

Manchester Council won praise in the 1980s by taking radical action to declare itself a “Nuclear Free City”. That forward thinking move showed the Council cared about the city it was passing on to future generations. Sadly, that radical flair had died by last July, when the Council refused to accept the Liberal Democrat motion I put forward to declare the City a ‘Fracking Free Zone’ - despite many Labour Councillors promising to vote for the measure just two months earlier. Instead, the policy that has been agreed is weak and fundamentally fails to understand the threats fracking brings.

Fracking is still a relatively new form of gas production, so its effects are not fully understood yet. But you only have to look at the impact it has had in the US to see how damaging it can be for communities. Closer to home, fracking in Lancashire has led to earthquakes in Blackpool. There is evidence the chemicals and water used during fracking pollute the water table - we don’t know how to stop this. There has even been examples of gas coming out of water taps. While there are still so many question marks around this controversial process we need to declare Greater Manchester a ‘Fracking Free Zone’.

Most people agree that we need to cut carbon emissions to prevent climate change. Why then have our Council leaders agreed a weak policy that allows gas companies to keep us hooked on a harmful fossil fuel? If the millions of pounds that go into fracking were diverted to harvesting clean renewable energy we could make a real difference to tackling climate change. We need to get our Council chiefs to think again and use Manchester’s famous radical flair to help save our planet. Please write to your local Councillors to let them know your views.

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